Thursday, October 27, 2016

Death By Sameness

We have the good fortune to work every day with generous individuals. All who have decided to give to us. Many of these folks earned their money through hard work and perseverance. Some of these generous souls are entrepreneurs. I was reminded recently that the word entrepreneur actually translates to "bearer of risk". These folks at one point took a risk on themselves, on an idea on something that wasn't yet concrete and leapt. They also did the same when they gave generously to our organizations. Out of the millions of nonprofits they chose yours, they may have given more than was comfortable or struck out to support a new initiative. 

And what did we do? We did more of the same. We have the opportunity to work with brilliant entrepreneurs and these bearers of risk have such high hopes for us. But most of our organizations are so risk adverse, we behave like hamsters on a wheel. This mindset is in direct contradiction to what they want, desire, and value. When will we embrace the non default position and move ourselves into a calculated risk culture? I'm not asking to break all the rules here, but gosh wouldn't it be nice to see us not produce a "newsletter" all about us and instead an email with stories of impact of those generous donors? 

Maybe it's time for a revolution, maybe it's time to take small steps to let donors know that we aren't just behemoths of past tense. Let's take one thing as an example, go pull out your business card. Does it have a fax number on it? 


When's the last time you received a fax that wasn't a vacation offer for a timeshare? You see, this is just one symptom of the problem. We don't change because we're not forced to. But entrepreneurs are constantly in flux, looking for the better solution, seeking out opportunities to improve and excel, if for no other reason than the bottom line.

Wanna see a good idea die? Assign it to a nonprofit task force or committee. It will come out sterilized and somewhat morphed but won't spark large enough to light a match. Take a risk, be bold! When's the last time you met an innovative entrepreneur who said "The success of my company and ideas is directly tied to a decision made by committee". Or the classic, "I'm successful because I just kept doing the same thing year after year." Nope. Doesn't happen. Innovation relies on a certain amount of risk. Aren't your donors worth you taking a leap for? What's a crazy good idea you're desperate to implement. When will you stick your neck out for your donors and say, today, we do it differently? Your donors are waiting.

I would love to hear about your risk taking and how you've been entrepreneurial in your work.
Comment below about how you've done it or the challenges you face from those who are risk adverse!


Friday, October 14, 2016

Is Perpetual Stewardship a Myth?

Lately, folks have been posting great questions to listservs about donors who have been placed in "perpetual stewardship" and bench-marking for plans around those generous people who have "made their final gift". I'm kind of miffed by this entire concept and am wondering if placing a donor into perpetual stewardship isn't a myth or isn't taking the easy way out. I think it undervalues and underestimates a donor and at times can be dangerous. 

First, let's explain why the practice occurs. Gift officers are measured on dollar goals usually and have to carry portfolios of donors ranging from 75-200 people. From time to time they work with prospect management teams to cycle donors through their portfolio. One way to remove a donor from your portfolio is to mark them in "permanent stewardship" status so that you can bring in a donor who has the chance of giving more or helping reach dollar goals. 

But where does this donor go? They often fall off of a cliff in reality. Meaning, there is no one assigned to people in "perpetual stewardship" and thus and therefore, the personal contact stops. One way to guarantee that a donor won't give again is to take their visit behavior from once or twice a year to nothing, but I understand the need to prioritize. The conundrum lies in how we determine when a donor is done giving and how many attempts we make before we have them walk the plank.

Planned gifts are no excuse. We know that once a donor commits to a deferred gift, their annual giving goes up, also ALL planned gifts are revocable given a good attorney so that logic doesn't play out. Someone that says they've made their final gift to us is another excuse. Final gift though to what? Have we just not found another good match for their philanthropic desires? What about the fact that the average lifespan of a fundraiser is 16 months? Could it be a personality glitch? Donors are randomly assigned based on geography or area of giving, what if we assigned donors based off of strengths or personality types? Donor doesn't give with one person at one point in time after huge philanthropic giving before, why don't we try someone else? Just because I tell Johnny that I'm done giving, doesn't mean Jane won't spark my fire. But once a donor is placed in "permanent stewardship" Jane doesn't even get the chance...

So what are the solutions? I really thing being more donor focused and realizing that preference is subjective is one path to success. Another would be a clear, consistent, definition of what it takes to be exited from a portfolio. Am I placed in permanent stewardship because I won't take your calls for a visit? Let us not be so hasty to write someone off. And if we place someone in this Oz of "permanent stewardship" let's also ensure that there is still someone there to take care of them, treat them well and meet their needs. We don't put our friends on a shelf. Why do we put donors there?  

I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you have donors in "perpetual stewardship"? Is this a legitimate donor category at your organization? What do you do for them and who is responsible?


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Be an Email Hero!

In your daily life you probably receive tens if not hundreds of emails. But are you using email effectively as a communication method? Or are you the person whose email other people deep sigh after receiving? Does your personality and netiquette change when you're writing to donors? It should. Also remember over 80% of email is now read on mobile devices, is yours mobile friendly?

As many of you know, I'm a blunt, direct person, especially in my communications. Therefore, I have a few friends that will read an email and help me with "softening" language, having that second set of eyes really helps, especially when I'm frustrated. SO here are my rules of the road when it comes to email. As a person who receives hundreds a day, these tips and tricks will definitely help you get your email read and also responded to. Try a few of these today.

  • Keep it brief, any email over 5 sentences needs to be a conversation
  • Be specific in your subject line. "Help please" isn't as great as "Could you help with our recognition societies" If no reply is necessary you could incorporate FYI into your subject line or please respond
  • Spell correctly, especially the first name. Sounds simple right? My name is constantly misspelled even though you have to type it to send to my email address. Not only is it annoying, it's careless,  double check. 
  • Don't CC the world, does everyone on that list really need to see that email?
  • Understand that short responses are not rude, they're quick and allow some of us to plow through emails quickly and expediently. If you want a long response, it will take a while
  • I'm an inbox zero person, I handle email once then it's gone.
  • Please put what you'd like first in the email, the recipient shouldn't have to read through paragraphs to try to discern your request.
  • Use bullets and lists when possible it helps with readability.
  • Keep your font simple and classic. Sans serif is best and please no backgrounds or cats playing with yarn balls in your signature.
  • Speaking of signatures, keep them simple and embed images if you must. If they come through as attachments its annoying and unnecessary. Most of us have filters to block attachments. Te simpler the signature the better. Please don't include your signoff in your signature- it's awkward and looks weird, especially when you double up on them.
  • With attachments, send links to google drive, box, or dropbox rather than sending large attachments. I won't open large unknown attachments. You're killing people's data plans! 
  • Expect 48 hour turnaround time. Is it really that urgent if you haven't received a response in 24 hours? Is someone going to die? If not, chillax. Understand that what is urgent in your world may not be on someone else's desk
  • Use your out of office messages expertly and efficiently. Turn them off and on in time. Make them kind and warm, have some personality!
  • Don't write an email you will regret. Save it as a draft and come back to it when you are less frustrated and angry. Save yourself and the recipient.
  • Feel free to respond to someone and let them know you understand. A simple, "I've got it" or "on it" or something lets the person know that you have received their email and that you are working on it.
  • On the other hand, don't reply all to everyone on a large email to say "me too" or "thanks" - sigh.
  • Your email is a reflection of you and should demonstrate your personality. It's ok to use phrases you use in daily speech, it's not ok to use emoji and text abbreviations. Keep it professional, keep it personal and keep it with a personality.
  • Need something from someone? Try some softening phrases- "I was hoping" I was wondering" "Do you think we could"
  • Don't use ALL caps, if its so important, bold it. No one wants to be yelled at. We get it, it's important.
  • If you make a mistake, own it and explain it. It's going to happen, embrace the fail and apologize and move on. No one has your mistake framed and laminated in their office, and if they do, that's their problem.
  • Express gratitude, but please, no meaningful life quotes in your signature, etc. If I wanted a daily lesson, I'd read the skimm.
  • Have fun and improve! Enjoy writing to others and know that every interaction you have with someone is an opportunity to bring them joy.
 What are your email pet peeves? How do you handle emails that frustrate you? What is on your wishlist from your coworkers? Are your donor emails different from your coworkers? I'd love to hear your feedback and please add to the list or debate a point!